THE Daily Mail’s front page splash yesterday on the real cost of lockdown to the nation’s health only began to describe the huge toll taken by turning an already inefficient National Health Service into a ‘National Covid Service’. The worst affected it reported are those suffering from cancer, heart conditions, strokes, diabetes and lung disease.
After months of cancelled care, delayed and limited access to treatment, growing waiting lists and despite a Covid death toll at its lowest ever, still no date has been given for full return to normal services. It appears there is no end in sight for the restrictive Covid working practices that are fast becoming the norm which, except for their being decreed by management, have all the trappings of a work to rule.
It isn’t as though the warning signs have not been there from the start. Already in April it was reported that doctors had had to postpone more than 2million operations for three months to free beds for Covid patients, and that working through this backlog would cost £3billion.
At much the same time the charity Cancer Research UK was expressing concern about the severe disruption to cancer services across the country, from screening to treatment to care.
By June we knew that 2million people were waiting for cancer screening tests and appointments. By mid-July we knew too, from the British Medical Association, of growing doctors’ disquiet at patients being neglected and their conditions worsening as a result of surgery and appointment cancellations due to Covid. All of which prompts the question of what exactly have we been saving the NHS for – for a quick return comprehensive healthcare or, as it looks, to protect and entrench an ever more dysfunctional producer capture system.
Now today, to add to this litany of ills we learn of – and it should come as a surprise to no one – the devastating effect that months of reduced and cancelled care is having on abandoned Parkinson’s and MS patients.
A joint press release from the charities Parkinson’s UK and the MS Society says that people with two of the most prevalent neurodegenerative conditions in England have had their vital social care slashed during the Covid-19 lockdown.
A survey of more than 2,000 people affected by Parkinson’s found that nearly half who received formal care from a local authority before the pandemic said they were now receiving a reduced amount of care. A separate survey of people living with multiple sclerosis (MS) during the peak of the pandemic revealed that nearly one in five had had their care and support reduced or cancelled. More than two-thirds of families, friends and unpaid carers of people with Parkinson’s said they had taken on more caring responsibilities since the Covid-19 restrictions started. The plight of those without families to step into the breach is unimaginable.
One woman described taking on the 24-hour care of her mother-in-law: ‘While Denise is a dream of a mother-in-law, we are mentally and physically exhausted. Denise’s worst Parkinson’s symptom is severe cramping, which can happen at any time, day or night. It can cause her to choke – she’s bitten through her tongue before, and even her cheeks. So we really need to be on alert at all times. It’s been emotionally devastating to see her decline.’
If the Covid crisis has highlighted anything it is the lives versus lives debate and the importance of families. The ethics of a government taking an arbitrary decision that sacrifices the lives and wellbeing of the many in favour of a possibly uncontrollable but exaggerated risk to a few, must now come under the spotlight. On what moral or legal authority did they takes such a catastrophic decision on behalf of us all.
The incapacity of the State to make its bloated services work has once again reaffirmed how critical families are and how much we depend on them. When push comes to shove it is the family we fall back on – those of us lucky enough to have them. A survey by the Neurological Alliance of 1600 people affected by neurological conditions, including Parkinson’s and MS, the press release mentioned, found 30% of respondents said the support they needed to maintain their independence was provided by friends or family.
Yes the family. This is despite all that governments have done to undermine it financially since the mid 1980s, progressively favouring individuals over households in the tax and benefits system, and by disregarding the economic and social value of the homemaking, nurturing and caring roles. If ever it was time to rethink this, it is now. We have seen what happens when people are left dependent on the vagaries and inadequacies of Local Authority care. Agency must be given back to families. Vouchers to buy and manage the care they need and that suits them on their terms – to be able to pay for it and take responsibility for it themselves – would be a good start.
People who say we need a National Social Care Service on a par with the NHS should be careful what they wish for. Would it prove any more dependable or reliable in time of crisis? Maybe a future Prime Minister would tell us that it too had to be ‘saved’. Families need writing back into the script not out of it.